Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving in Abu Dhabi

I was a little worried about Thanksgiving. It has always been a big family holiday for our clan, with as many as 15 or 20 of us gathering under one roof for turkey and talk and good times. The meal always includes turkey and ham -- my dad never ate poultry, for reasons that were never fully explained, and we have continued the tradition after his death.

After the meal, we choose up sides and play touch football in the yard or at a park, then come back inside for more food. At night we break out games like Pictionary and BuzzWords, and the sweetest, calmest family you've ever met suddenly becomes competitive, trash-talking crazies.

It’s the kind of day mirrored by thousands or maybe millions of families, nothing special really, until you realize you’re not going to be there for the first time in as long as you can remember.

So here I was in Abu Dhabi, 7,500 miles from home, wondering just how lonesome I would be, and how long it would take me to eat all the leftovers if I cooked a turkey for myself.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about, at least on the food and festivities front.

First came an invitation from a recently arrived American couple, who put out an unbelievable spread on Wednesday night – a delicious turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy (why is it that everyone can make good gravy except me?), two kinds of stuffing, fresh green beans, cranberry relish, warm rolls … all my favorites. After the meal, five Americans and a British interloper sat around drinking wine, talking shop and, for the most part, being quite thankful.

On Thursday, it was an international Thanksgiving party – Canadians, Americans, Brits, Australians and a Jamaican who had just received his U.S. citizenship. The food was once again superb (yes, the gravy, too), the wine flowed freely, someone’s iPod was displaying excellent taste ... it was almost enough to make me forget about what I was missing.

At both gatherings, the non-Americans were openly curious about our holiday – Do we give presents? Is there a Thanksgiving Eve? Is it a religious holiday? They seemed pleased to learn that it really is all about family and food and being thankful, not commercialized or divided by religious differences.

When I came home, sated and tired, I thought more about what I was missing back in the States. The first Thanksgiving in more than two decades without your family is a sad thing. But I realized I have much to be thankful for – a lifetime of Thanksgiving memories made only dearer by being away, and new friends who may not know everything about The Fourth Thursday in November, but who know a heck of a lot about making the most of what we have and being thankful for it.


  1. Great post, Robert. Thanksgiving is a great holiday to share with non-Americans. That has been a family tradition of ours. This year, our family had, in addition to the traditional T-day foods, dumplings made by some Chinese friends, pad Thai made by my sister-in-law and a flan-based cake made by some Mexican friends. Food and drink and family and friends really is the kind of tradition everyone can appreciate and enjoy, even in the years where some people's families can't fit into the mix.

  2. Loved this post. I asked Danny and Megan to bring a couple of pies to our Thanksgiving dinner. They showed up with pies, sweet potato casserole, baked apples and HAM. They kept the tradition alive!